Guidance for Restaurants During COVID-19 (update)

Governor Wolf’s Office has updated guidance  for Restaurants Permitted to Operate During the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees and the Public

As much of the Commonwealth moves from the Yellow phase to the Green phase of the reopening process, businesses in the restaurant industry are expected to follow various measures designed to reduce the transmission of the Covid 19 virus to patrons and fellow employees.  Retail food service businesses, including restaurants in counties designated as Green are authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to the guidance, however they  must do the following:

1.            Require all customers to wear masks while entering, exiting, or while otherwise traveling throughout the premises. Face coverings may be removed only while seated.

a.            Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children under the age of two years per CDC guidance) are not required to wear masks and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.

2.            Restaurants must provide at least six feet between parties at tables, the six feet cannot include the space taken up by the seated guest.  Physical barriers between customers where booths are arranged back to back are permitted.

a.            Spacing must also allow for physical distancing from areas outside of the facility’s control such that pedestrians on a sidewalks should be able to pass with at least six feet of distance to customer.

3.            Restaurants must ensure that maximum occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor areas are posted and strictly enforced. Maximum occupancy, to include all customers and employees at the facility including those waiting to be seated. The occupancy is calculated using the following two methods. The more restrictive number must be used.

a.            Method 1. Limit to 50% of stated fire code maximum occupancy or 24 people per 1,000 square feet if there is no applicable fire code maximum occupancy. When no fire code number is available for outdoor dining, the 24 people per 1,000 square feet number should be applied.

b.            Method 2. Arrange the restaurant so that customers sitting at a table are not within six feet of any customers sitting at another table in any direction and calculate the maximum number of customers that can be accommodated.

4.            Do not use shared tables among multiple parties unless the seats can be arranged to maintain six feet of distance between parties.

5.            In addition to these maximum occupancy limits, additional limits apply to discrete gatherings and events which may be held within the restaurant, facility, or venue, such as weddings, and catered events. Specifically, restaurants, facilities and venues must limit the total number of individuals gathering at one time (including staff) for any discrete gathering or event within the facility or venue as follows:

a.            In the Yellow Phase of reopening, discrete gatherings are limited to 25 individuals.

b.            In the Green Phase of reopening, discrete gatherings are limited to 250 individuals.

c.             .

6.            Train all employees on the importance and expectation of increased frequency of handwashing, the use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and provide clear instructions to avoid touching hands to face

7.            Specific employees should be assigned to monitor and clean high touch areas frequently while in operation including entrance doors, bathroom surfaces, host stands etc., and continue to regularly clean all other areas of the restaurant or retail food service businesses. Clean and disinfect any shared items with which customers will come in contact such as tabletops, digital menus, check presenters, and digital payment devices after each customer use.

8.            Procedures should be implemented to increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency in the back of house. Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants.

9.            Visual and physical guides should be installed, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signage on walls to ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart in lines or waiting for seating or in line for the restroom. Encourage customers ordering take-out to wait in their vehicles after ordering.

10.          Live entertainment is permitted at restaurants, provided they remain at least six feet from patrons and staff.

11.          Non-medical masks must be provided for employees to wear at all times and make it mandatory to wear masks while at the restaurant.

a.            An employee does not need to wear a mask if it impedes their vision, if they have a medical condition, or if it would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task. Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees according to Department of Health policies.

12.          Employee workstations should be staggered to avoid employees standing adjacent or next to each other.

a.            Where six feet of separation is not possible, consider other mitigation efforts with increased physical barriers such as sneeze shields and increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.

13.          Establish a limit for the number of employees in shared spaces, including break rooms, and offices to maintain at least a six-foot distance.

14.          Employees should not share equipment (e.g., cooking equipment, trays, etc.) to the extent possible.

15.          Verify that dishwashing machines are operating at the required wash, rinse and sanitize temperatures and with appropriate detergents and sanitizers.

16.          Follow all requirements of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Code regulations, even when altering from normal types of food delivery.

All restaurants and their employees are authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to the guidelines established by the Governor’s office guidance are encouraged to do the following:

1.            Establish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person to implement the plan.

2.            Prior to each shift, ask that the employees self-measure their temperature and assess symptoms.

3.            Utilize reservations for dining on premises to maintain records of all appointments, including contact information for all customers.

4.            Use staff-facilitated seating where appropriate. If seating is not staff facilitated and tables cannot be moved to meet the physical distancing requirements outlined above, tables that should not be used must be clearly marked as out of service.

5.            Allow no more than 10 people at a table, unless they are a family from the same household.

6.            Use single-use disposable menus (e.g., paper) and discard after each customer, or utilize a written posting such as a chalkboard or whiteboard to relay menu information.

7.            Close or remove amenities and congregate areas non-essential to the preparation and service of food or beverages such as dance floors, game areas, playgrounds, small games of chance and tavern gaming etc.

8.            Use technology solutions where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction, including mobile ordering; text or phone app technology to alert customers when their table is ready to avoid use of “buzzers;” and contactless payment options.

9.            Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at point of sale terminals, cash registers, bars, host stands, and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult.

10.          Consider methods to make point of sale terminals safer, including use of no contact applications, placement of a glass or clear plastic barrier between the employee and the customer, and providing a hand sanitizer station for customer and employee use after handling credit/debit cards, PIN terminals, or exchange of cash.

11.          Where possible utilize touchless door and sink systems or providing single-use barriers (e.g., deli tissues, paper towels) for use when touching door and sink handles.

12.          Schedule closure periods throughout the day to allow for cleaning and disinfecting, including bathrooms (i.e., after lunch service).

13.          Servers should avoid touching items on tables while customers are seated to the extent possible. Dedicated staff should remove all items from the table when customers leave.

14.          Where possible use separate doors to enter and exit the establishment.

15.          When protective equipment such as face coverings are used, launder daily and wash hands after touching/adjusting face covering while working.

In addition to the requirements above, all private event spaces and wedding venues with food service authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance must require event hosts to maintain a list of all guests in attendance including phone number and expected location 14 days after the event.

This guidance does not authorize any specific external area near or adjacent to a business in the restaurant industry for outdoor dining. Businesses must obtain any permits or other authorization, as required, to serve food and beverages outside of physical indoor service areas.


Failure to strictly adhere to the requirements of the guidelines established by the Governor’s Office may result in disciplinary actions up to and including suspension of licensure, including liquor licenses.

– J. Ken Butera

Posted in Newsletters, Restaurant / Liquor License